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Islands at the Rickshaw Theatre

Review – Islands at the Rickshaw Theatre, Vancouver, Oct 20 2009

– by Rachel Fox

During opener Toro Y Moi’s set at the Rickshaw Theatre, a Stupid Drunk Kid across the aisle kept indiscriminately yelling profanity at the stage. I wanted to punch him in the head, except I don’t punch, because I am a pacifist who lacks upper body strength. (Besides, I take out my feelings of aggression passively.) But wait – one of the big bouncer Rickshaw guys stepped in to warn Stupid Drunk Kid’s buddy about his behavior! This place keeps getting better all the time…

Toro Y Moi, aka Chaz Bundick, is a 23 year-old electronic-whiz kid from South Carolina. He had already started his set by the time I took my seat; the image of him all alone onstage save for keyboards and a Mac  managed to complete the nostalgic vibe of a high school auditorium talent show I got upon arrival. Initially I wasn’t feeling the sounds at all, but I really warmed up to him after the first few songs, so kudos to him for turning it around. His synth-funk beats show signs of real promise, and he’s clearly very talented.

“This is what Prince’s bedroom would sound like, if Prince’s bedroom was a jungle in outer space,” was what I wrote in my notes. I also scrawled, “It would sound even better, though, if Chaz got himself a better singer because his own voice isn’t such a great fit over those textured, overlapping beats.” (That was so Paula Abdul of me.) He did look and sound really cool up there, and when it was all over I just wanted to give the kid a hug.

Next up was Plus Perfect, a local band filling in for Be Your Own Pet‘s Jemina Pearl, who apparently didn’t make it over the border due to passport issues.

Andrew Candela, Plus Perfect’s lead singer, proclaimed that the group’s members were, in fact, “born from the womb of Vancouver.”

“Well, that explains it,” I thought.

I say that with love because, as their set kind of fell flat and never really flowed, they did sound earnest. In spite of my predilection towards a “Safety first!” venue, I do like my music to have a bit of an edge to it – unfortunately the  quartet was a bit too generic and innocuous for my liking. In fact, with its heavy organ element, Plus Perfect came off sounding something like a drunk Police filtered through polka king Walter Ostanek (more likely is if Walter were to get hammered and start tossing off hits from Zenyattà Mondatta).

The drums were too loud, sharp, heavy; the keyboard seemed way off and the moody Ray Manzarek-esque sound really rustled against the bass – which may explain why they sounded a bit off. Perhaps the members of Plus Perfect need to take some advice courtesy of Bruce McCulloch and consider that part of what made the Doors work was, in fact, that “they had no bass.” The lead singer exuded a certain John-Mayer-sans-O-face* quality that I am sure lots of the girls loved, but he’s a little too squishy to qualify as Rock Boyfriend Material in my universe. This feeling was cemented when he made a point of throwing “a song out to Quentin Tarantino,” which I thought was sweet, at first, and then hit me as kind of lame and awkward because I don’t think Tarantino was actually at The Rickshaw last night. Sigh.

Promoting its newly-released third album Vapours, Islands is in possession of a lushly layered, guitar-driven sound that is in keeping with the eclectic Montreal indie music scene from which they have sprung. If you haven’t heard Islands, and if it’s any indication, they’re nestled on m’iPod somewhere between Metric (who they opened for in 2006) and MGMT.

When the band took the stage, lead singer Nick Diamonds appeared in a glittering, Elvis-inspired rhinestone-studded satin cape, sunglasses and with an overgrown Mop-Top-Hairshop of a coif that totally obscured his eyes – now, see, that’s how a future Rockstar Boyfriend makes an entrance. Diamonds eschewed a certain quirky-cool bravado I’ve a definite fondness for but haven’t seen in a while. My foot was a-tapping from the opener. Islands’ eclectro-pop vibe translated nicely to a live show, something their sound crew spent time ensuring. By the time the group broke into “Don’t Call Me Whitney, Bobby”, off Islands’ debut Return to the Sea, I’d almost forgotten I still had to get through the Downtown Eastside to get home.

Prior to Islands taking the stage, I noticed that their crew took some time to do a thorough sound check, confirming my suspicion that the Rickshaw currently suffers from poor acoustics (though I still stand by my comment about Chaz’s singing abilities).

Note to Local Bands: If you plan on playing The Rickshaw anytime soon, befriend a qualified sound guy immediately and make sure to pack the house.

Note to Rickshaw Theater: Please invest some more cash in your venue so that local acts have a chance at sounding better. And make sure to pack the house.

Islands setlist:

Switched On
No You Don’t
Disarming the Car Bomb
Tender Torture
Don’t Call Me Whitney , Bobby
The Arm
Rough Gem

*Guitarist John Mayer is famous for making an ‘O’Face’ when performing. O-Face can be seen on those in the throes of coitus, or in some cases those who gain intense pleasure whilst riffing.

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